Feds Unveil New Rural Atlas

March 2, 2011

About two-thirds of the nation's counties are considered rural, but with just 17% of the population, they often get minimal environmental news coverage. Along with the low population numbers, one reason for that is the lack, or perceived lack, of adequate data for covering various topics. Some of that void has been filled with the US Dept. of Agriculture's new Atlas of Rural and Small-Town America, which pulls together extensive, diverse information from a wide range of sources.

The atlas provides data, at the county level, on scores of agricultural, demographic, and economic topics. For agriculture, for instance, you can look at farm income, size, sales, subsidies, ownership type (by categories such as minority, women, or over age 65), extent of agritourism, and many other categories. Under the overarching category of county characteristics, you can find information on the dominant economic drivers (agriculture, mining, manufacturing, government, etc.), and traits such as low education level, extent of the so-called "creative class," or the magnitude of net population loss in a county. There also are numerous demographic and economic indicators.

You can use the data in many ways. For instance, you can click on a single county and reveal all the data for each category. Or on the national map, you can pick any given category and get an initial feel for national patterns, then click on individual counties for more detail. All data can be downloaded so you can work with it any way you want, and maps can be downloaded for your use.